Best and Worst of 2013

Most Disappointing Game: Animal Crossing: New Leaf

Animal Crossing: New Leaf is the second game I've played in the Animal Crossing series (the first being the DS title) and the second game in the series that I have not enjoyed. My disappointment in New Leaf has very little to do with the quality of the game itself and pretty well everything to do with the fact that I really wanted to like it. My enjoyment of Style Savvy: Trendsetters made me think that charm-heavy life sims were a genre I could get in to, but it turns out that without the fashion, it's just not all that much fun for me. I should have probably avoided buying New Leaf altogether, especially since I had tried out and dropped Harvest Moon: A New Beginning just a few months before its release, but I thought that New Leaf's more interesting characters might make me stick with it. I don't think I'll be picking up the next installment in this series -- it just isn't for me.

Runner Up: Shin Megami Tensei IV, for very similar reasons.

Best Music: Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Dual Destinies

I don't think that 2013 was the strongest year for video game music. 2012 spoiled us with amazing choices like Hotline Miami, Fez, Sound Shapes, and FTL just to name a few. 2013, however, was a great year for updating music in interesting ways. I know that A Link Between Worlds remixed and re-orchestrated a lot of classic Zelda music, and in Bioshock Infinite, songs from different time periods were re-recorded in a style better suited to Columbia to highlight the concept of time tears and multi-verses. I have to say that had I actually played Bioshock, it would probably be my first pick here, mostly due to its use of Goodnight Irene, one of my favourite folk songs, during the lottery scene. Since I only watched a Let's Play of the game, I would prefer to make it my runner up.

And so my choice is Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Dual Destinies, whose soundtrack is pretty amazing for the same reason I think many enjoyed the music in A Link Between Worlds so much: it successfully updates music from previous games without pandering. The Dual Destinies soundtrack also features some pretty awesome new music, including some great character leitmotifs: Simon Blackquill's in particular. The music in the Ace Attorney series has always been very good, and I'd say that the Dual Destinies is probably my second favourite, after the first game. Nothing, of course will ever be as good as Gumshoe's theme or Logic and Trick.

Runner Up: Bioshock Infinite.

Best Older Game I Played in 2013: Style Savvy: Trendsetters

I was originally not going to recognize Style Savvy: Trendsetters here this year, because I thought I should change this category a little and award it to a game that I had not played at all prior to 2013. Since that left me with only one real contender, which I enjoyed my time with but had gotten bored of before finishing (see runner up below), I decided to just go with Trendsetters and not worry about it so much. I still feel that Trendsetters is an incredible game and deserves a lot of recognition for being a female-targeted video game product that is also, at the same time, a high quality product. It's a good game that is fun to play and, unintentional or not, has some pretty positive messaging in it. Trendsetters was my go-to game this year whenever I needed a game that I could just pick up and not devote a lot of time and energy to.

Runner Up: Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning

Top 5 Games of 2013

I decided, like last year, that a top 5 was the best way for me to go for 2013. I played more games this year than I did in 2012, but to make a list of 10 I really liked, I'd have to pad it and add some games I'm not all that excited about. The top 5 list was pretty tough to make, particularly figuring out which games belonged in 5th and 1st place, and I think that's better than padding or making a weird list of 7 or 8 games. I should also probably point out that I did not play The Legend Of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds in time for it to be considered for this list. I wanted to get to it before the end of the year, but December was a busy month for me and I figured it would be better to leave it off the list and think about it next year than to rush it when I'm not really in the mood.

5. Papers, Please

When I was first thinking about finalizing my top 5 list this year, I had four games I definitely wanted on that list, and one blank spot, which I assumed would probably be #5. There were few contenders once I decided to eliminate Zelda: Tales of Xillia, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, and Papers, Please. I figured that Papers was probably the least likely to wind up on the final list. Everyone was talking about the moral choices you made in the game and while I was aware of the choices I had made, I didn't really think they were all that moving or interesting until I was telling a friend about how I had played the game. I hadn't paid much attention to the instructions, so the first two endings I got first were the whole family dying and going to jail for being in debt. After I had achieved those two endings, I didn't have any trouble making the moral choices like detaining people or not letting unfortunate people through the checkpoint, because I knew I had to do whatever I could to keep my family alive. While I was playing the game, I didn't really think of how incredible it was that the choices I made didn't bother me -- I was, after all, just keeping body and soul together. Once I began thinking about it a little more, and realized the implications, I was floored.

4. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Dual Destinies

Before I played Dual Destinies, I was worried that it was going to be my most disappointing game of 2013. I didn't like the implications of Ace Attorney 4's story, and Investigations' writing and mechanics had totally fallen flat for me. I felt as though the Ace Attorney team might not be able to make games that interested me anymore. I was very, very glad to be proven wrong. While I do think that some of the cases were a little too complicated for their own good, Dual Destinies is, in my opinion, the best Ace Attorney game since Trials and Tribulations. The new characters are lively and interesting, the overarching story of the game fits well with the other games in the series, and the music and atmosphere are charming. I do think that Dual Destinies is a little odd in some respects, especially in that it retcons about as much of Ace Attorney 4 as it can without totally ignoring it, but for me, the choices the development team made about what to leave behind were very smart.

3. Sweet Fuse: At Your Side

When I read Aksys' next Otome venture would be Sweet Fuse: At Your Side, a game I had never heard of, I was pretty skeptical. Last year's choice of Hakuoki had always seemed pretty obvious. It had pretty art and a significant Western following due to its anime series. Sweet Fuse seemed a little odd by comparison with its Ace Attorney-style character designs, Keiji Inafune weirdness, and lack of awareness from the Western otome game fandom. I thought that surely, something from the already popular Starry Sky or Uta no Prince-sama series would be a better choice due to pre-existing interest and awareness. I really only bought Sweet Fuse because I wanted to support Aksys' endeavour to bring more Otome games to North America, but I wound up absolutely loving it. Saki Inafune, Keiji Inafune's fictional niece is a wonderful protagonist and the story in the game is very interesting. I enjoyed the story so much that I played all 7 character routes so that I could see it from all the different angles. Of course, I wound up liking some routes better than others, but each character's story was interesting enough to make their route worthwhile. It also helps that, for a visual novel that requires backtracking and repeating scenes, navigating all the content is pretty smooth and doesn't get annoying, which is pretty tough to accomplish in this genre. I can't wait for whatever Aksys tries to bring over next, I now know that they have my best interests at heart.

2. Gone Home

I had a hard time deciding where Gone Home should live on this list. My first instinct was to place it at #1, because I feel, for the first time, like someone made a game especially for me, but then I thought a bit about my top 5 from 2012. In 2012, I chose the game I thought was better over the game I had more fun with, and I decided that maybe in 2013 I should change it up a little. Gone Home is a game that I will remember for a long time to come. I think it did an excellent job of subverting a lot of video game expectations both in terms of mechanics (best use of audiologs ever maybe?) and story. The story, in and of itself, was fantastic and an excellent departure from the video game norm. It was supported by some of the best voice acting this year. I thoroughly enjoyed exploring the Greenbriar house and was tense and on edge through the whole experience. The tension and wonder I felt while playing Gone Home was incredible to me, and I hope that the game's success inspires more dev teams to make narrative and exploration-heavy experiences that don't rely so much on violence. It's hard for me sometimes to express how incredible I think Gone Home is.

1. Fire Emblem: Awakening

I logged somewhere around 120 hours in Fire Emblem in 2013, completing it twice. I had been looking for an entry point in to the strategy RPG genre for some time previous to 2013 and it was Patrick Klepek's praise of the game that convinced me to try it out. I was already interested in it due to the art style and good buzz surrounding it, but I also felt a little intimidated, since I was new to the genre. After hearing Patrick talk about it, however, I figured I had as good of a chance as any to get through Awakening and enjoy it. I am very happy that I took the chance. Awakening is a great package for me. The strategic combat is addictive and challenging, and the art is gorgeous to look at. The overall story of the game is not great, in my opinion, but it is helped along by the friendship mechanics. I think the character support interactions are probably the best part of Awakening. They are well written and masterfully localized and actually make grinding fun. Grinding. Fun. The concepts seem mutually exclusive, but being able to level and relationship grind at the same time and see all of the fun stories between the characters is Awakening's greatest achievement. I only wish that there wasn't such a strong focus on marriage and romance, because there were lots of possibilities left unexplored. I am looking forward to getting in to some of the DLC soon, and I hope that the excellent post-release support of Awakening starts a trend for Japanese publishers and developers to release more DLC content in other territories.

I can't believe I wrote all that! On to 2014!

Posted by Phatmac

Great number one choice and I have to agree with your choice for best music. I'm still listening to DD's soundtrack regularly.

Posted by Cathryn

@phatmac: Thanks! I'm actually thinking about playing Awakening on harder difficulties, so I think it might be an important part of 2014 for me as well. I haven't been listening to it regularly, but when I went back to it to choose a track for this post, I found myself wondering why I wasn't.

Posted by Phatmac

@cathryn said:

@phatmac: Thanks! I'm actually thinking about playing Awakening on harder difficulties, so I think it might be an important part of 2014 for me as well. I haven't been listening to it regularly, but when I went back to it to choose a track for this post, I found myself wondering why I wasn't.

That's a great way to play that game for sure.

Posted by Video_Game_King

@cathryn said:

@phatmac: Thanks! I'm actually thinking about playing Awakening on harder difficulties

Like, Lunatic? Or Lunatic+? YOU ARE QUITE FUCKED.

Edited by Cathryn

@video_game_king: lol never -- I'd get way too frustrated with it, I think. I played both times on Normal, so I was thinking about taking some smaller steps and going for hard. It was my first FE and first SRPG and I didn't look up any information or FAQs, so my first play through was just me trying to learn and experiment. I think after going through it a second time, I might be ready for hard.

Posted by GunstarRed

I've been so frightened of Fire Emblem ever since its release. I'm definitely going to get it at some point now. I finally got around to the demo a couple of days ago and had one of those "I've made a mistake" moments.

I've only played one game on here (Animal Crossing) and have every intention of playing Phoenix Wright, but I still enjoyed reading your list.

Edited by Cathryn

@gunstarred: Thanks for reading! I was also super intimidated by Fire Emblem, but my interest in it finally just won me over. If you're an SRPG novice like me, I think the most important thing to do is not give up. During my first playthrough, I fucked up a lot of things and didn't take advantage of a lot of the game's systems as well as I could have, and I was still able to beat it on Normal. It does a pretty good job of easing you in to the combat, etc... If I can survive that game, anyone can -- I am bad at video games.

Posted by Karmosin

I liked sweet fuse alot too! Probably not enough to wind up on my top 10 though... Or now that I think about it, maybe it would... Haven't played all that much new stuff this year to be honest =P

Also the only game on your list that I've played... Would really like to play the new phoenix wright though, got into the series on DS some weeks ago and I'm enjoying it very much. Too bad that some of my favorites like Maya and Gumshoe dosen't seem to be in it though.

Posted by Cathryn

@karmosin: Yeah, Sweet Fuse was pretty awesome. It definitely wasn't the strongest year for new games for a lot of people I know, but I think next year is going to be amazing.

Yeah, they have been selective about who they've brought forward in to the new game, but this is not all that surprising, especially after AA4. I think it's pretty likely that we'll see more of those characters in future games, though. That team has had a lot of trouble with using older characters in the past, and Investigations, in particular, was a bit of a fanservice nightmare. I think less is more is a better approach to all that than spamming players with useless cameos all the time.

Posted by AdzPearson

I wouldn't feel bad about shortening it down to a top 5. I only played five games from 2013 IN TOTAL (one of which I didn't finish XD). That's why I ended up putting older games in my Top 5. I'm not the best when it comes to playing current games. I tend to play older games that I've missed in previous years. It's proven to be a pretty good system.

Your write-up for Fire Emblem just makes me want to play it even more. Definitely sounds like something I'd be into. I need to see that for myself...

Edited by Cathryn

@adzpearson: There aren't really a lot of games that come out every year that I want to play in the first place, and I while I try to keep up as much as I can with new releases, I inevitably wind up playing a lot of older games each year as well. My tastes are pretty niche, really, so I always feel like a top 5 is best for me, but since most people do the top 10 I always feel like it needs a little explaining.

Yeah, so, relationship grinding is what really makes Fire Emblem for me. You can pair characters/units together or have them fight beside each other, and if they have a support relationship (some characters have them with each other and some don't), every successful action they take while paired or next to one another will level up their relationship. Every relationship has 3 levels (4 if romance is possible, each character can romance one other character within certain limits), and once they move to another level after fighting together for awhile, they get a scene together outside the battle. These interactions are the real story of Fire Emblem. They're basically social links, and they're amazing! So, if you grind, you inevitably get to build more of these relationships, which makes it a lot more fun than grinding usually is.

Edited by Miyuki

Sweet Fuse is worth it then? I've been on the fence about picking it up, but I loved Hakuoki. I love seeing games like this get English releases. Great list - it also makes me want to finally play that copy of Fire Emblem I have on my shelf!

Posted by Cathryn

@miyuki: Thanks! Yes, Sweet Fuse is totally worth it. For me, it was much better than Hakuoki. I think that Hakuoki is a good game, but the setting doesn't really interest me all that much -- Sweet Fuse is more what I'm looking for. Unfortunately it doesn't have the same emotional depth as Hakuoki, but I think the story and characters are far more interesting.

No one puts Fire Emblem in a corner! Play and enjoy it! ;D

Posted by Hailinel

The only choice I can possibly argue with here is Animal Crossing for Most Disappointing. I've found New Leaf more fun than any game in the series since the original. Maybe it helps that I finally have friends that are also playing the game, and the network functions make it easy to visit each other's towns, but I've been playing it off and on since launch and still enjoy it. I totally understand your reasoning, though. It's a shame that the game didn't really catch you, as for those it has, it's very entertaining.

And I actually have Trendsetters, but I have yet to start playing it. But I played the original Style Savvy and it was a lot of fun, so I'm hoping to make time for it at some point.

Posted by Cathryn

@hailinel: I think that's definitely a draw for a lot of people, the multiplayer aspect. I was thinking about trading some friend codes and then I couldn't even get in to the base game itself. Really wanted to like it, but meh -- it's good to hear you're still having fun with it, I always like it when games have some staying power beyond the first week or two of release.

Trendsetters is really, really good. I actually bought the first game after playing Trendsetters and found it difficult to go backward because the clothes and characters look so much sharper on the 3DS. It's definitely got a few problems, but I think overall it's a lot of fun. I'd be interested to hear what you think of it when you wind up trying it out.